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Budget crunch in Negaunee

October 30, 2009
By JOHANNA BOYLE Journal Ishpeming Bureau

NEGAUNEE - Hard choices are confronting the Negaunee City Council as work continued Thursday evening to meet the deadline to have the 2010 budget approved.

"Somewhere along the line, somebody's going to have to get hurt to balance the budget," said Councilman Richard Wills.

Several council members emphasized the importance of looking at all the departments when it came to making cuts.

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"When we close our eyes to some departments, we are not doing the job of examining every area of our budget," said Councilman Jim Thomas. "We have to look."

The council is continuing to attempt to identify sources in the budget for money to provide the police department with enough funds to meet its requested budget, which retains the current staffing levels. Other concerns in the budget are grant matches for the remaining phases of the Croix Street reconstruction project and funding for the city's Street Asset Management Plan.

The council voted to have City Manager Gerald Peterson go through the budget again to identify items that could potentially be cut for the next budget session, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Negaunee Senior Center.

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The council asked for further information on several cuts and the impact they would have, including the elimination or reduction to part time of the current full-time civilian clerk position at the police department.

That position was one of the potential cuts in 2006 when the city cut seven positions, Peterson said.

"She (the clerk) does do a substantial amount for the officers," said Police Chief Jay Frusti. "To cut that position to a part-time position, I would disagree with."

The clerical position is responsible for a large amount of filing and report work, Frusti said. Without the clerical position, the department would be unable to maintain its current 8 a.m.-4 p.m. office hours, he said.

Other potential cuts that the council asked Peterson for more information on included cutting $8,000 from the parks department budget for repairs and maintenance, $10,000 from the cemetery budget and cutting the special events budget, which includes city support for events like Pioneer Days.

No action was taken on any of the above cuts as the council was seeking more information on what was left in the budget and what the effects would be. Peterson was asked to look through all aspects of the budget and report back to the council at the next meeting.

Another potential area to cut is from the economic development budget in the form of a match for a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for interpreting historic places, for which the city has applied for the Old Town area.

The council also discussed portions of the city's mission statement.

"'To provide the highest quality of municipal services consistent with the resources available to us,'" said Mayor Paul Gravedoni, reading from the mission statement. "Understand that. That is the crux of the whole thing.

"... Revenues dictate the terms of our budget. If you're going to take from one place, it's going to roll over and affect a different place."

The effects of both the current financial situation for the city and the situation that is expected in the coming years is important for the council to make budget decisions, Peterson said.

"You don't have the resources to do these things that we've all indicated we want to do. The question is do you try to take the really tough decisions now? Nobody wants to do that... It's worse a year from now," Peterson said. "There have to be fundamental changes in operations here."

Currently the city budget does not allocate adequate funds for infrastructure improvements or vehicle purchases.

"If you fund public works where it is now, if you fund police where it is now, if you fund fire where it is now, you will have no money, none, zero, for infrastructure improvements, for roadway improvements, for vehicle replacements, this year, the next year, the year after that," Peterson said.

Once the 2010 budget is approved on Nov. 12, Peterson advised the council to keep an ongoing dialogue with the public to continue budget discussions throughout the year.

"I think the fundamental question that the council has to ask is do you try to continue as best you can to keep what's going on or do you recognize that it's fundamentally changed and you won't be able to support this in the long term," Peterson said.



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